The lifts have finally begun to spin in the Northeast and a crowd of gravity racers gathered at Thunder Mountain this past weekend for the opening round of the Vittoria ESC BOX Components Eastcoast Showdown series and the Massachusetts State Championships. The BOX showdown weekends feature a double-bill of enduro and downhill racing and are a pedal-powered festival. More than 400 racers showed up for the Thunder Mountain events and the mountain was rocking all weekend.
Thunder Mountain Bike Park is located at the Berkshire East ski area in northern Massachusetts. The bike park opened in 2015 and has rapidly become one of the premier riding destinations on the East Coast. It also offers killer views of the Deerfield River valley.
As a bonus attraction, Saturday night featured a dual slalom race on a course just above the busy parking and camping area. A rowdy crowd cheered as racers, like pro rider Oliver Levick, laid down some sweet runs to advance through the bracket. When the dust had settled Isaac Allaire and Rachel Pageau were the top dual slalom dogs. (Photo by Andrew Santoro)
Race day got off to an early start with a full dance card on tap for racers and organizers. The weather started off cool and sunny but an approaching weather front promised rain for later in the day.
The enduro was the first item on the agenda and racers got a somewhat rude awakening to their race day. Stage One was no warm up run and offered a challenging start to the day as it took riders down the black diamond Juggernaut trail. Pro rider Gavin Vaughn, racing for Scott and Woodstock Sports, jumped right into the mix on the stage's first rock garden.
Juggernaut takes a challenging line down the mountain's steep eastern side with a wealth of tricky side hill traverses. Nick Girioni, racing for NBX Bikes and Deity, tamed the off-camber tech and took 2nd in the 18-and-under class.
After finishing Stage One, racers faced a daunting physical challenge. Instead of riding the lift back to the summit, racers climbed Sugar Line, Harold's Blend and a work road up the mountain as part of the FOX seat post climber's challenge. Stage Two was nearly as as tough as the transfer and one of the longest stages in Vittoria ESC enduro history. The partially out of bounds stage took the fastest rider more than ten minutes to complete and nearly 40 minutes for the slowest.
Stage Three was a challenging delight, linking three of the mountain's best trails into one long top-to-bottom run. After taming Back of the Shack, racers struggled through Thunder Cliffs which takes a rough traverse across a very steep pitch. Bassil Silver, racing for JRA Cycles, Devinci and Race Face, balanced across the vertiginous slope for a top-ten finish in the huge 19-29 class.
The bottom of the stage wound through some park features before dropping into Billy Badger which offers a fantastic blend of natural and man-made challenges. Chris Pare from Renegade Racing launched a table while racing to a top-ten result in the 40-49 class.
Returning to the summit, racers headed outside the park boundary for the final stage which began on a little-known track called Estranged Moose.
Stage Four was another epic segment with times starting at eight minutes due in large part to the top section which featured ample pedaling with numerous climbs. Jeff L'Heureux, racing for NBX Bikes and Trek, didn't let a little wet spot slow him down as he absolutely crushed every stage enroute to winning the 30-39 class by almost two minutes.
After turning racers' legs to jelly, Stage Four dropped into Wine Tree which is a test piece under the best circumstances. Pro Willem Cooper, another NBX Bikes racer, also representing Deity, Fox and Endura, put his downhill background to use on the final stage and took 5th in the pro class.
Before getting to enduro results, lets take a close look at enduro powerhouse Seamus Powell's new steed:
Fork: Fox Factory 36 fork boost, 3 volume spacers, 88-90 PSI Rebound 8 clicks from closed High speed rebound 5 clicks from closed Low Speed rebound 12 clicks from closed
Rear shock: Fox Float X, 2 volume spacers, 220 PSI Compression open Rebound... Slower side of in the middle
Build kit: Shimano XT All the way XT brakes with 203mm rotor F 180mm R XT shifter and derailleur XT 11-42 cassette XT 175 mm cranks w/stages power meter. XT 34 tooth front chain ring Shimano Modular Chain Device Chain Guide. Enve Carbon wheels Shimano XTR Hubs Seat post: Fox Transfer 150 MM Saddle: WTB Volt Bars: Shimano Pro Tharsis 9.8 Downhill bars 800 MM 30mm rise Stem: Shimano Pro Tharsis trail stem 55 MM length 20 mm spacer under stem 10 mm above Grips: ODI Ruffian
The winners of the Fox Seatpost Climber's Challenge which rewarded the fastest riders up the climbing transfer between Stages One and Two. David Breen was the fastest amateur and took home the new Fox Transfer seatpost.
Winners of the Alex Rims Stage Race which awarded a tubeless set-up to each class winner and a set of Alex Rims to the fastest amateur racers on Stage Four. For the men the big winner was Jeff L'Heureux and for the women it was Hazel Brewster.
In the pro women's enduro race, Canadian Rachel Pageau laid down another impressive result. Leading by a scant three seconds entering the final stage, Pageau dominated the field and topped her closest rival by 34 seconds to win by a comfortable margin. Pageau said: "I came to Thunder only for the enduro race. I was pretty tired because I had just flown black from Ireland after the EWS on Tuesday but I was still very pumped for a weekend of racing the Vittoria ESC. I'm really easy to convince into racing because I love a challenge so when my friends told me about Dual Slalom I was like, 'alright should be a fun Saturday night.' Then I heard the downhill track wasn't too hard so I tried it and decided to just register and take it as a good training experience. I think the enduro segments were a perfect mix of technical and pedalling, very fun challenging tracks."
In second place was Lauren Petersen, a familiar sight on enduro podiums for years. Petersen, racing for CFM Cycles, Pivot and Fox New England, won the first stage and kept pace with Pageau until the final leg. Petersen has finished first or second in every Vittoria ESC enduro this year.
On the third step was Alisha Darin, also racing for CFM Cycles. Darin continued her string of top-shelf results having finished in the top three for 10 consecutive amateur and pro starts.
The women's pro podium from left: Rosy Metcalfe-4th, Lauren Petersen-2nd, Rachel Pageau-1st, Alisha Darin-3rd, Sarah Lynch-5th
The men's pro race saw the return to the top step for 2015 overall champion Seamus Powell. Powell is on a new team this year and finished second at the Victory Hill enduro. "The tracks were pretty good. There was a solid mix of very technical downhill segments and pedaling. I think that Stages Two and Four were sources of contention with a lot of racers for the physical bits. It's been a while since the Vittoria ESC has had a race with this much diversity. Stage Four was the most challenging because the beginning of the stage was a 3-4 minutes slick technical riding. I managed to get through that with a busted wheel and rear derailleur after smashing a rock in the first corner. I'm really stoked on this win because it's KHS Factory Team's first pro enduro win and proves the bike works well across the board on any enduro stage. I love my new bike and it's working great so far!"
Taking second in the men's race was Franck Kirscher who is back to a busy race schedule after being injured for much of last season. Kirscher, racing for Transition, Urge, NRG and Boreal, also raced the downhill event at Thunder and combined with a top ten at the Victory Hill event appears to be back on pace.
The third step belonged to Adam Morse, racing for Yeti, POC, Vittoria, Box and TRP. Morse has three consecutive top enduro finishes and will likely be a top contender for the overall crown.
The men's pro podium from left: Brad Tasik-4th, Franck Kirscher-2nd, Seamus Powell-1st, Adam Morse-3rd, Willem Cooper-5th
As the enduro was winding down, attentions turned to the downhill side of the Box Components ledger. Thunder Mountain's downhill race track is The Schist, a steep and rowdy plunge that has becoming rougher and more challenging with each passing season.
The track starts with a steep plunge into a rock jumble. After several years of racing, the once unpredictable rocks seem to have settled into a stable state. After concluding his enduro segments, Jeff L'Heureux laid down an impressive second place downhill result in the Cat 1 30-39 class.
A drop into a minefield of rocks and roots was the next technical challenge. The rim-pounding section can be avoided with a snaking line to the right but most of the fastest racers plowed right through the chunder. ESC North American DH Team member Aidan Casner, racing for POC, Deity, Onza and Novatech, led a sweep of the top three spots for the ESC team in the Junior X class.
Entering the woods, The Schist links a series of traverses and fall-line plunges down a steep pitch. Phil Beard from Bicycle Express Racing had a big day on the bikes, winning both the 40-49 enduro class and the Cat 1 40+ downhill race. Beard's son Carson also took home an enduro win for the accomplished racing family.
The challenges of the track come in rapid succession with no chance for a breather. After recovering from a broken neck, pro rider Dylan Conte appears to have made a full recovery and sped to his first podium finish in nearly two years .
The pitch eases for the second half of the track but racers must navigate some tight, high-speed sections. Kevin Wilson charged to a podium result in the Cat 2 19-29 class.
The Gravitron stone berm marks the end of the wooded portion of the track. Rafael Mandujano has a history of top results at Thunder and kept the string alive with a third place in the Cat 2 40+ class on Sunday.
A pair of step downs and a monster berm brought racers to the finish line. Dave Richard, one of the most consistent competitors on the Vittoria ESC tour for the past few years, showed some style as he exited the woods.
The class winners of the FLY Speed Zone which clocked racers at over 40 mph at the bottom of the track.
The BOX Components weekends award the top racers who compete in both enduro and downhill events with some of Box Components' finest bike technology. For the women, Rachel Pageau got the the queen's treatment for her unsurpassed efforts.
On the men's side, Jeff L'Heureux, Phil Beard and Michael Maldonado took home the BOX Components goodies. After holding off all day, the rain started to fall as the last racers were crossing the finish line. New ESC sponsor Motorex, makers of fine lubricants, brake fluids, and cleaners came to the podium rescue with a protective pop-up tent.
Racing the same Devinci Troy carbon that she used in the enduro and dual slalom, Rachel Pageau topped the women's pro expert open field by more than seven seconds. "I had a killer weekend. I went into all the races with a positive and fun attitude and it paid off. I came to Thunder all by myself and it was one of the most fun weekends ever. I got to Thunder on Friday so I had time to get in a couple laps on every enduro stage that day and one more on Saturday. I also got about four downhill laps and one track walk. I'm stoked on how my bike took it all in this weekend, it was good at pedalling for the dual slalom and enduro and yet survived a good beating on the DH track!"
Riley Weidman was the pro runner up on The Schist. Representing Reading Racing in Pennsylvania, Weidman doesn't get to many New England races but made her trip north count.
In third was Mazie Hayden, the ESC North American DH Team's first ever female team member. Hayden is one of the top ski cross racers in the country and left before awards to travel to Mammoth Mountain, California for a US Ski Team camp.
The men's pro race was topped by Defiant Racing's Mauricio Estrada who also won his last start at Thunder in 2015. "Thunder Mountain Bike Park is one of my favorite places to ride, the course is great and very tricky when you try to put down a fast run. This year the course was more difficult and fun because all the rocks and roots were sticking out and it made racing more interesting and challenging. It’s awesome to see that the difference between 1st and 7th was just 1.5 seconds. I know everyone is training hard and pushing their limits and I hope we can continue improving and showing that East Coast downhill is stronger than ever." A new twist this year for Estrada is playing the dual role of racer and father as his teenage daughter, Ivanna, has taken up the sport. "Now racing is more special for me, I am a proud dad not only because my daughter is winning in her class, but because she is progressing fast and I am stoked to see how mentally strong she is. I hope we can continue to share this passion for many more years."
On the second step was veteran Tim White, back from a nearly ten-month hiatus from racing as he welcomed a new daughter into the world. Fatherhood seems to agree with White as this was his top downhill result in the past couple years. Perhaps White's daughter Opal and Estrada's daughter Ivanna will be racing together one day!
In third place was Dan O'Connor who is a deceptively fast rider with finely-honed bike skills. O'Connor took the third step at Thunder Mountain in 2016 as well.
The men's pro podium from left: Steve Estabrook-4th, Tim White-2nd, Mauricio Estrada-1st, Dan O'Connor-3rd, Dylan Conte-5th
As always, Thunder Mountain put on a great show with an army of volunteers and a well-organized staff. The enduro crowd gets a few weeks off but the DH speedsters keep the momentum going as the Vittoria ESC downhill series jumps right back into action this coming weekend at Pat's Peak in Henniker, N.H.
Words and pics by Jeb Wallace-brodeur Video by Jason Scheiding
Vittoria ESC Enduro Schedule Eight events count best six April 23, Vittoria ESC Enduro – Glen Park, Stroudsburg PA May 21, Vittoria ESC – Victory Hill, Victory VT June 3, Vittoria ESC – Thunder Mountain, Charlemont MA – Box Showdown (State Championship) June 25, Vittoria ESC – Blue Mountain, Palmerton PA – Box Showdown (State Championship) July 16, Vittoria ESC –Sugarbush, Warren VT – Box Showdown (State Championship) Aug. 20, Vittoria ESC – Attitash, Bartlett NH – Box Showdown (State Championship) Sept. 3, Vittoria ESC – Blue Mountain, Palmerton PA – Box Showdown Sept. 24, Vittoria ESC – Killington, Killington VT – Series Finals
Vittoria ESC DH Schedule Nine events count best six June 4, Vittoria ESC Downhill – Thunder, Charlemont MA – Box Showdown (State Championship) June 11, Vittoria ESC Downhill– Pats Peak, Henniker NH – State Championship June 25, Vittoria ESC Downhill – Blue, Palmerton PA – Box Showdown (State Championship) July 9, Vittoria ESC Downhill – Plattekill Mountain, Roxbury NY – State Championship July 16, Vittoria ESC Downhill –Sugarbush, Warren VT Box Showdown (State Championship) Aug. 20, Vittoria ESC Downhill – Attitash, Bartlett NH – Box Showdown Sept. 3, Vittoria ESC Downhill – Blue Mountain, Palmerton PA – Box Showdown Sept. 17, Vittoria ESC Downhill – Windham Mountain, Windham NY Oct. 15, Vittoria ESC Downhill – Mount Snow, West Dover VT – Finals
Clif Enduro East July 1–2 Killington Aug. 5–6 Burke Victory Sept. 9–10 Thunder